My love letter to the road
was a text from the road: Nebraska treated me
to the best sunset. How could I be bored?
I sent it to a friend from the suburbs of Omaha
and she laughed as I wide-eyed the turbines,
chess pieces on a sprawling green turf
marching into the sky, guarding farmland
as sharply as a flaming blade at the gates
of Eden. And a strawberry moon,
bubble gum marble over a crumbling highway
belting the land beneath the low-hanging night,
cobalt and humid, fraying at the edges.
Somewhere between states smoke
billowed like baby’s breath from the copper plant
and the sky spilled again, seeping
under bridges into the marshy margins
of the lake. The day before in the salt flats of Utah
I had to stop myself from kneeling
to kiss the ground at a grimy rest stop off I-80,
black slash through the barren basin
whose floor reached ceaselessly outward
to distant holographic mountains.
As a chef to her salt cellar I would have dipped
my hand. Then winced, spat, and rose again,
lips stinging. Or left my car and run
until I was dwarfed, a blip
on the surface of an alien planet.
There must have once been a lake, I read,
that evaporated and left this stark expanse,
bleached bone glinting in muddy June sun.
Unlivable. Come winter the salt will find itself
on the road somewhere in the mountains
or Midwest, the force that keeps cars from flying
across the ice or schoolchildren
from sliding on the sidewalks. It will go
back to the ground, to settle
and brine. This flatness levels the gaze
but movement makes landscapes desirable.
Staying stagnates, we find. Still.
Dear destination, dear dusty town
in my rearview, tell me a hundred years
of this view would yield more beauty
only if beauty means knowing
every place on earth must be loved
by first being endured.
In the city-glow everything can be possessed.
Here I walk bent in oversized coats, treat home
as something attainable. Warm a friend’s
apartment with flowers carried on foot, Woodlawn
to Hyde Park. Blue Line, Green Line. Red.
Colors become comfort. Begin to mean:
This stop is mine. Clark and Lake is ours.
I’m running late. Meet me in the middle.
Street to street faces blend and stack like parts
of a grand chord. I brush someone’s gaze
on the train platform, move on, two vessels
passing in a glowing artery. Shadows fold over
sidewalk corners like pages turning. Bleak night,
lake chill. Boarded brownstones, vacant lots.
Snowflakes suspended in streetlights, film grain
on the portrait of darkness. I hope to soften slowly
into someone who stays. The L overhead,
solemn rumble, restrained screech of steel on steel.
Chicago is tough love, he says. We trudge a mile
the wrong direction, hop a south-bound bus.
The Waning of Ordinary Time
On the frozen porches of tired greystones
there is a singular bond which comes
with first snow. Winter’s brutality breeds death
and tender gestures, a gathering of exiles
in spaces lit by candle glow. At the bus stop
strangers nod and shiver. This is January weather.
All agree. I’ve seen over thirty Chicago winters,
cover your head, you’re told, it will freeze until May.
On these November mornings when your breath
unfolds like gossamer cloth in front of you, you loiter
on the steps of city churches for a whiff of incense,
to know someone is kneeling with aching joints
between dark wood and dripping wax. Maybe this year
you’ll pray. Maybe you’ll raise your face
to the pale sky down Greenwood as the migrant geese
overhead like black ink etched against
lingering clouds leave loudly, eyes fixed
on something only they can see.
Photograph of Megan Kim by Grace Kim.